Rural Bulgaria is a patchwork of villages, many with a quarter inhabited only by people of Roma origin. LIFE works across all communities to make the lives of dogs and horses less harsh, but tends to reach out mostly to Roma ghettos where spay/neuter programs for dogs are unheard of, disease, neglect and cruelty are rife and the treatment of horses can be at its worst. There are exceptions – Roma families who care deeply for their animals – and LIFE targets these for support and encouragement, as well as coming down hard on those who knowingly inflict suffering.
The mention of ‘knowingly’ raises questions. Over her years of working among the rural communities, Lucy has concluded that much of the misery animals experience here is caused less by deliberate cruelty than a lack of knowledge on the part of owners. Education plays a key role in LIFE’s Outreach Work.
LIFE seeks to lessen ignorance of the needs of animals by working with local schools, village mayors and, where needed, the police. Most of all, LIFE connects with individuals who need direct, hands-on help for their dogs or horses. Over time Lucy has built up a network of contacts among the Roma and those helped often alert others to LIFE’s presence in the area.
LIFE’s tasks in the Roma ghettos are as many and varied as the needs of the dogs and horses encountered on Outreach rounds. Lucy may receive a message saying a mare has a neck wound and while on the way there, find dogs suffering from tick-borne diseases or mange - cases noted for attention later. The horse could have knocked herself on a beam in a hazardous hand-built stall, or she may have been deliberately hit with an axe. Owners will sometimes say what’s happened; sometimes tell a perhaps unlikely story. In all cases, treatment of the problem is prioritised. If it is certain deliberate cruelty has been involved, a lawyer’s letter will be delivered to the perpetrator, issuing a warning and noting fines liable under Bulgarian law. Stray cats and kittens are often captured and neutered to prevent many more future kittens being born on the streets and homeless.
LIFE’s Outreach programme works with local livestock vets who, when called by Lucy, will attend a sick or wounded horse which otherwise would not receive treatment. LIFE’s intervention – and the funding of medicines as well as the vet’s call out fee – prevents horses continuing to suffer until they deteriorate to a point at which the owner realizes they won’t survive, and has them slaughtered for the price of their remaining meat.
The meat man lives nearby and what he offers in cash can make this an attractive option for owners of horses who meet with accidents or fall ill. LIFE will sometimes step in to save a horse from the butcher’s knife, find a rest home for her or take her to the haven, but a policy of not being seen to pay for rescue is in place, or the unscrupulous could see a business opportunity in such intervention.
Helping owners understand how they can get the best out of a horse by keeping her happy and healthy is one of LIFE’s most essential educational drives in the ghetto areas.
Lucy began informal Outreach Work in 2010. Since then, many dogs and cats have been spayed/neutered as well as treated for injuries or illnesses, and many horses have also been helped. As LIFE’s support base grows, the Foundation’s Outreach programme can have a positive impact on the lives of many more.